Pages tagged "Academic Freedom"

  • Research Reveals High Proportion Of Kiwi Academics Feel Unfree To Exercise Academic Freedom

    8 April 2022

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    The Free Speech Union has released the results of the first Annual Survey on Academic Freedom, which paints a stark picture of the state of academic freedom in New Zealand. The research reveals that a significant minority (almost half) of the academics feel less free than free with respect to numerous core aspects of academic freedom surveyed. Part of the results are:

    • 45% of respondents felt more constrained than free to question and test received wisdom.
    • 47% of respondents felt more constrained than free to raise differing perspectives and argue against the consensus.
    • 47% of respondents felt more constrained than free to raise differing perspectives or to debate or discuss issues to do with gender or sex.
    • 50% of respondents felt more constrained than free to debate or discuss issues surrounding the Treaty, with almost one-third responding 0-2.5 (very unfree).

    “Universities are supposed to facilitate an environment in which academic staff can express ideas without fear of retribution or persecution– where they can question and test received wisdom and state controversial or unpopular ideas. These results confirm what many academics have been privately expressing to us – they simply don’t feel free to venture honestly-held views on contentious issues," says spokesperson for the Union, Jonathan Ayling.

    “That almost half of the academics feel less free than free in most areas surveyed is a worrying indictment on the state of the tertiary sector, and raises questions about whether our universities are doing enough to honour their statutory obligations to preserve and enhance the academic freedom of their staff as required in the Education and Training Act 2020.

    “Interestingly, the level of seniority did not necessarily translate into academics feeling they have greater academic freedom, with lecturers claiming to feel more free than professors. It is also clear that different academics perceive their level of academic freedom as dramatically different from their peers. For example, in terms of freedom to debate or discuss Treaty issues, 30% said it was very low (less than 2.5) and 36% said it was very high. It is unknown if this correlates to what their actual views on Treaty issues might be.

    “Universities are meant to be places where the marketplace of persuasion and ideas creates and advances knowledge, pushing us beyond the status quo. Without the freedom to think and to share ideas freely without fear of reprisals, knowledge cannot develop and society can’t progress. Intellectual inquiry is unable to lead us into new discoveries and ways of thinking when a sizeable minority of academics at our universities feel more constrained than free in most areas.

    "If academics and the tertiary educators of our nation feel more constrained than free on a majority of the questions raised, it is likely that the case is even more pronounced for students at universities across the country. The Free Speech Union will be releasing a subsequent survey shortly examining the perception of free speech by university students, also. Universities are failing to foster diverse perspectives, and this will have major implications in the options which we are aware of as we address complex and difficult questions going forward.

    "The Free Speech Union commissioned Curia Market Research to survey New Zealand academics on their perceptions of academic freedom. New Zealand academics were asked to express how free they felt in respect of eight facets of academic freedom, on a 0 to 10 scale where 0 is totally unfree and 10 is totally free. 1,266 respondents agreed to participate."

     

  • The intimidation of the Fellows

     

    Graham Adams

    Seventy notable academics have sent a motion of no-confidence to the Royal Society over its handling of the professors’ letter to the Listener — but some of their colleagues say they are too fearful to sign it. Graham Adams reports.

    If anyone ever believed universities are institutions where academics can speak their minds freely and openly, the stoush sparked by the letter that seven University of Auckland professors sent to the Listener last July should have thoroughly disabused them of that notion.

    What should have been an uncontroversial statement that mātauranga Māori is “not science” and therefore should not be included in the NCEA science syllabus led to a wave of condemnation and vilification of the professors. And this despite the fact they made it clear that indigenous knowledge was valuable both “for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices” and in “key roles in management and policy”. What’s more, prominent Māori scholars such as Professor Sir Mason Durie had already acknowledged that science and indigenous knowledge are incommensurable.

    Even the professors’ own Vice-Chancellor, Dawn Freshwater, hung them out to dry with what one British journalist described as a “hand-wringing, cry-bullying email” that referred to the “considerable hurt and dismay” the letter had caused staff, students and alumni.

    Three of the professors, Robert Nola, Garth Cooper and Michael Corballis, were Fellows of the Royal Society NZ, but — rather than supporting their right to speak publicly about their concerns about mātauranga Māori in a science syllabus — it responded with a statement on its website that said their views were not only “misguided” but caused “harm”. 

    Last November, it also instigated disciplinary action against Nola, Cooper and Corballis after complaints were laid. (Corballis has since died.)

    After a barrage of criticism from famous international scientists, including Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and Steven Pinker, our premier academy for science and the humanities abandoned its pursuit of the two professors in March. But if it hoped that would be the end of the matter it was sorely mistaken.

    Last week, 70 of the society’s more than 400 Fellows signed a letter to the society calling for a no-confidence motion to be debated at the 56th hui ā-tau o Ngā Ahurei Annual Fellowship on 28 April. 

    It began: “Many of us have lost confidence in the current Academy Executive and Council, whose actions seemingly have brought the society into disrepute, shutting down useful debate and bringing international opprobrium from leading scientists. 

    “We are further concerned about the lack of agency that Fellows have following the many restructures of the society over the last several years, and the spending of fellowship fees to cover lawyers’ costs and, presumably, public relations consultants to defend the society’s very poor processes and actions.”

    The three specific objections made in the letter were to the statement published on the society’s website last year (described as “ill-conceived, hasty and inaccurate in large part”); the way the society handled the complaints against Professors Nola and Cooper; and lastly the “unfortunate” fact the pair felt compelled to resign.

    As the letter put it: “It is extremely unfortunate that this process has led to the resignation from this Academy of two of its distinguished Fellows. One is a renowned philosopher of science, and the other is perhaps the strongest scientist of Māori descent in the society and is someone who has been active in supporting Māori students in education for decades, and who, along with other experts in science, offered an expert opinion that was rejected by the society as being without merit, and characterised as racist by members of the Academy Executive (and current and former Councillors).”

    The motion was moved and seconded by two of the nation’s most prestigious and accomplished mathematicians, Distinguished Professor Gaven Martin and Distinguished Professor Marston Condor.

    Among the 70 signatories were internationally renowned heavyweights, including Distinguished Professors Brian Boyd and Peter Schwerdtfeger — celebrated scholars in literature and theoretical chemistry respectively — and Professor Alan Bollard, a former Governor of the Reserve Bank, and chief executive and secretary to Treasury.

    Having a substantial chunk of the Royal Society’s Fellows formally object to its handling of the Listener letter and the fallout is momentous but what is also remarkable — and remarkably depressing — is that the number of signatories would have been even higher if other Fellows had not feared for their livelihoods and careers by signing.

    Gaven Martin’s covering letter included these dismal paragraphs: ”Sadly several other Fellows have also indicated they will vote in favour, but because of the potential harassment and bullying they believe they would receive (from some current and former members of the Academy and the RSNZ Council, and from colleagues in senior and other positions within their university), they do not wish to disclose their names in this document, especially if it becomes public.  

    “Many younger Fellows and others have said (again in writing) that their jobs would be at risk signing this letter. 

    “Two Fellows (major Royal Society NZ medallists) said this: ‘Better not [sign] at this stage… I agree with all the statements — but you can’t imagine the pressure being put on us. I will vote for the motion though.’”

    And: “In confidence I am disillusioned with RSNZ and I am too scared to sign anything for fear of what may happen to me at [the University of Auckland] if I do so.” 

    Martin noted: “This is a startling indictment of the situation in the research community in New Zealand at the moment, and of the way in which the RSNZ handled and exacerbated the controversy over the letter to the Listener.”

    The letter’s signatories ask that the society write to Professors Cooper and Nola, and to the estate of Professor Corballis, and apologise for its handling of the entire process. 

    They also want the society to “review its current code of conduct to ensure that this cannot happen again, and in future the actions of the Academy/Council are far more circumspect and considered in regards to complaints concerning contentious matters”. 

    Lastly, that the entire society “be reviewed, examining structure and function and alignment with other international academies, and the agency given its Fellows upon whom its reputation rests”. 

    While it is at it, the Royal Society might also like to apologise to the other four professors who signed the Listener letter but are not Fellows given that their reputations were all sullied by the statement the society put on its website about their views being misguided and harmful.

    However, you’d have to say that right now the society will have its hands full just dealing with the explosive no-confidence motion placed before it.

  • Why Robert Nola quit the New Zealand Royal Society

    Notes by Robert Nola just after quitting (March 2022)

    (1) The reasons have to do with lack of good support by the Royal Society NZ (RS) for important issues concerning science in a free society.

    (2) The dispute discussed here arose over a letter to the 31 July 2021 issue of the NZ Listener, called In Defence of Science. I was one of seven signatories to the letter.

    (3) Many good things are done by good researchers in RS; but not always because they are in it. Much of the good work might have been done before being made a fellow while the use of the acronym “FRSNZ” comes as a later bauble.

    (4) I received supporting comments from many Fellows during the dispute with the RS. And we should note that the Investigatory Panel (IP) set up by RS to look into the complaints against professors Garth Cooper and Robert Nola ended up largely in support; it recommended not to continue the investigation. But the views of the IP set up by the RS are not necessarily the same as those of RS itself.

    (5) The RS raised three lines of objection. The first was based on what we said in the letter. The main critical target in the letter was a claim in a Government NCEA working party report that science itself has been used to support Eurocentric views and colonisation (as opposed to people as agents of colonisation who might also use science). We strongly objected to this view. But I am not aware of any response to this from RS (though there should be one given the state of science and mathematics education in New Zealand). This did not get as much critical comment in the ensuing discussion as the final sentence of the letter which said: ‘indigenous knowledge … is not science’. This is a contestable claim which is worthy of debate, but none was given through the RS. Its response was to shut down dogmatically such discussion, as will be seen.

    (6) The second line of objection was a note on the RS website set up by the President Dr Brent Clothier and the Chair of the Academy Executive Committee Prof Charlotte Macdonald (it remained up for about 5 months).

    (7) It made false claims about what we allegedly said in the Listener letter about Mātauranga Māori. And it added that ‘it deeply regrets the harm such a misguided view can cause’ (presumably the view being that indigenous knowledge is not science!). No evidence was ever given concerning the harm allegedly caused. But this is also part of a view in which any harm caused by free speech, and even the extent of academic freedom, ought to lead to the curtailment of such freedoms. In fact, it has now become much more common for there to be requests for restrictions on academic freedom as defined in the relevant 2020 Act. I regard this as an unwelcome development.

    (8) Even though the Code of Ethics of RS endorses freedom of speech (but not obviously academic freedom), the Code clearly admits restrictions which I would regard as highly contestable. I am strongly of the view, contrary to the Code of RS, that no Code of Ethics should impose restrictions on the freedoms that the laws of the land would permit. This is a problem with many codes of ethics; they need to be challenged in the courts.

    (9) Clearly, we had no support in advocating views about science and knowledge which were not sanctioned by RS, especially in the case where indigenous “knowledge” systems are given a privileged protection immune from criticism. We are simply not permitted to say that indigenous knowledge is not a science (even though many scholars working in the field of Mātgauranga Māori say that it is not!). Even if one might disagree with these views, at least support of the doctrines of academic freedom and free speech would not lead one to reject these views out of hand. In sum, I regard the website note as obnoxious, as did many who commented to me about it.

    (10) The third line of objection arose when the RS took up five complaints about the letter to be addressed by their Complaints Procedures and their Code of Professional Standards and Ethics in Science, Technology and Humanities. Of the five complaints only two were made public and were investigated by an Investigatory Panel (IP). The final conclusion of the IP was that the complaints be taken no further. Their grounds were clause 6.4(i) of the Complaint Procedures which provides circumstances in which a Panel can conclude no further action should be taken, viz., “the complaint is not amenable to resolution by a Complaint Determination Committee, including by reason of its demanding the open-ended evaluation of contentious expert opinion….”. This an important win in the complaints’ procedure. But it is something which might have been arrived at by a more appropriate vetting procedure of the original complaints in the first place.

    (11) Clearly the investigation got bound up in the legalisms of a Code of Ethics rather than a discussion of a substantive issue about science, such as whether indigenous knowledge is, or is not, science. But one would have thought that this was something for which the RS might have at least provided a forum instead of evading it by retreating behind its Code. This is just one example of how codes might be employed to stifle free speech. It is a serious failure of the RS that it cannot have such a discussion of some claim rather than dogmatically adopting some stance which is then put beyond the pale of criticism.

    (12) Ten and eight years ago I published two papers on the nature of science with a co-author, Professor Gürol Irzik, a professor of Philosophy at Sabanci University in Istanbul. We have now been invited to write about the same themes after ten years and are in the process of completing the paper. Has the dispute I have had within the Royal Society in dealing with the complaints brought against me produced anything I could use in the paper? No! The dispute has been entirely unproductive of any research in this area and has been a waste of time. My complainants have produced nothing which would be of value for this paper.

    (13) In sum, why resign? The main issue underlying this dispute has to do with freedom of speech in the area of science. It has been long recognized that science best advances when it is open to the critical discussion of any of its doctrines, whether alleged to be indigenous or not. This is something found in the 19th-century discussion of freedom of speech by John Stuart Mill. If anything is given privileged protection from criticism, then this undermines the advance of science. At the moment the dogmatic stance seems to be in the ascendancy for the RS. And it is supported by the acceptance of a Code of Ethics which can be used all too easily to curtail free speech. The remark in the letter that indigenous knowledge is not science has clearly been taken by many within the RS to be an unacceptable claim to make, given the way in which it has been challenged by reprimands and investigations. But this stance should never have been accepted if the Royal Society NZ was a fully “open society”. A resignation can be a sharp reminder that it ought to provide a better forum for the discussion of contentious views instead of condemning them on websites or having panel investigations into them.

  • Lady Deborah Chambers QC Letter

  • Disagreement, even vehement disagreement, is not abuse nor ‘harassment’.

    Disagreement, even vehement disagreement, is not abuse nor ‘harassment’.

    There is little pleasure to be found in ‘I told you so’ when inevitably those who have perpetuated cancel culture and attempted to prohibit others from speaking freely are in turn subject to similar behaviours.

    Nonetheless, just as any Kiwi should be able to do their job free from threats to their lives and safety, Professor Shaun Hendy and Dr Siouxie Wiles are right to expect that they should not experience such behaviour as a result of their public work. The pair have filed complaints against their employer, University of Auckland, arguing that it hasn't protected them against "a small but venomous sector of the public" that has become increasingly "unhinged".

    There are some distinctions to be made as to whether the University of Auckland is responsible for adverse reactions to the academics’ public communications, but the following points from the Employment Relations Authority ruling merit highlighting:

    1. The University of Auckland admitted they advised Hendy and Wiles to reduce their public commentary as an option to reduce Health and Safety risks. This is wrong. The academics should not be expected to stifle themselves in order to be safe. It is disappointing to learn that University of Auckland executives would apparently want to allow a “thug’s veto”.
    2. The University of Auckland attempts to argue that Hendy and Wiles’ public commentary is not part of their employment, despite Wiles' contract including a 40% portion for science communications. This is a core matter for the Employment Court, but it seems prima facie to be clear that the science communication of Dr Wiles is part of her work. 
    3. Hendy and Wiles take their complaints beyond physical intimidation and threats, and refer to "targeting by harassment and abuse of Māori academic researchers who comment on racism and race issues, sexism directed at academics who comment on the gender pay gap...". This appears to be an opening for quasi-hate speech laws, where employers may have to 'protect' employees from social media comments. If the Employment Court decides that employers must protect employees from online abuse around contentious issues, then it would be justification for their apparent want to simply shut down any controversial discussions.

    Academic experts play a vital role in leading and participating in public discussions and have the right to not have their contributions met with violence (of the actual kind) and threats. Threats of violence are ultimately a matter for police. The university should take reasonable steps to enable academics to do their job, for example they may intervene to reduce the use of university facilities and resources by those found to be contravening university policies or the law.

    This includes academics with whom Hendy and Wiles might not agree and includes threats to employment.

    While we want to make our condemnation of threats clear, it is important to recognise that part of expert academics’ role in the public sphere is to facilitate the exchange of ideas, be the “critic and conscience of society" and "promote community learning".

    Both Hendy and Wiles have publicly taken part in attempts to silence colleagues they disagree with. They have signed open letters, levelled unfounded accusations of racism, and aggressively sought to discredit fellow academics who either disagreed with their covid commentary or asserted that Mātauranga Māori is not necessarily science. 

    Public communications engaged in by academics should not be treated as edicts handed down, not to be questioned. Indeed, science itself is the process of testing and questioning and adding to a wider, proven body of knowledge. In expressing an expert opinion, academics should be willing to engage with critique and challenges in good faith. Disagreement, even vehement disagreement, is not abuse nor ‘harassment’.

    A certain degree of robustness should also be expected from public figures, particularly those engaged in political work of any kind. We need to draw a line between what is illegal threatening behaviour and what is unpleasant (sometimes downright nasty) commentary made by an impassioned critic.

    To silence and punish rude or subjectively offensive speech in this context would have a chilling effect on all who seek to criticise or question particularly controversial topics. For example, we would not want to see New Zealanders prohibited from expressing the strength of their feelings in protests against Government action as many did during the TPPA marches even though some of the rhetoric was potentially offensive to then Prime Minister John Key. Being rude or offensive should never be a crime.

    As New Zealand’s union for freedom of speech, we advocate for an academic environment in which academics like Hendy and Wiles do not find themselves in a situation of ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’, so to speak.

    Reciprocal respect for the rights of others to express and defend their views ensures that when situations of threats and abuse arise, the entire community feels able to speak against it.

    We encourage the University of Auckland to reflect on how a robust policy of free speech that is not vulnerable to the “thug’s veto” would bring greater confidence and solidarity to its academics. It would also allow the university more time and resources to deal with the kind of threats and doxxing Hendy and Wiles raise in their case.

     

    Ani O'Brien


    Ani O'Brien 

    Council Member
    Free Speech Union

     

     

     

     

  • Dawn Freshwater kicks for touch on Mātauranga Māori

    As international criticism mounts, Auckland University’s Vice-Chancellor pledges a symposium next year to debate the role of Māori knowledge in science education. Graham Adams suggests a public apology to the seven professors would show it was more than a PR stunt.

    Reading the statement last week by Dawn Freshwater announcing a symposium to be held next year to debate the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science, it was impossible not to feel at least a little sceptical about her new-found enthusiasm for free speech.

    After all, in late July the Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University effectively hung seven professors from her own university out to dry soon after their letter “In Defence of Science” was published in the Listener.

    The professors’ 300-word letter was written in response to plans to include mātauranga Māori in the school science curriculum and to give it equal standing with “Western/ Pakeha epistemologies” — which means subjects such as physics, biology and chemistry.

    The professors acknowledged the value of indigenous knowledge as “critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices” and that it “plays key roles in management and policy”. But, while it “may indeed help advance scientific knowledge in some ways”, they concluded, “it is not science”.

    Freshwater’s immediate reaction was to disown the letter writers. Her brief statement began:

    “A letter in this week’s issue of The Listener magazine from seven of our academic staff on the subject of whether mātauranga Māori can be called science has caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students and alumni.

    “While the academics are free to express their views, I want to make it clear that they do not represent the views of the University of Auckland.”

    Some were surprised the university actually has official “views” but apparently — in Freshwater’s eyes at least — it does.

    In the wake of the firestorm sparked by the professors’ letter, Freshwater had another go at articulating her position in a longer statement on August 10. It appeared in part to be an attempt to remedy the evident shortcomings of her email on July 26. This time, the possibility of hurting other people’s feelings or dismaying them was ruled out as a reason for her academic staff to bite their tongues:

    “The freedom to express ideas is constrained neither by their perceived capacity to elicit discomfort, nor by presuppositions concerning their veracity.”

    Nevertheless, the idea that the university may deem some views acceptable and others unacceptable was repeated, although its chilling effect on freedom of expression was downplayed:

    “Our seven academics were entirely free to express their views, however the University was also free to disagree with those views. That does not mean the University is censoring or trying to silence our academics, it is merely making clear that such views are not representative of the myriad views within the institution; and that the University may at times disagree with the views expressed by its academics. That is healthy in a university.”

    It was hardly a convincing statement of academics’ rights to air their opinions. In what way, for instance, does your employer reserving the right to point out publicly that it does not approve of your views not function as an act of censorship or an attempt to silence?

    And how could any particular group’s views ever be “representative of the myriad views within the institution”?

    For that matter, in what universe is it “healthy” for a university to “disagree with the views expressed by its academics”? In fact, some would see it as a symptom of serious underlying illness.

    In last week’s statement promising a symposium, Freshwater appeared to have given up on wrestling with the complex problem of what academic freedom and freedom of expression might mean in practice. She simply declared repeatedly that the university is in favour of it.

    The question of the university approving some views and not others had disappeared and the whole debate was thrown over to the panel for discussion next year.

    It is not impossible that in the past five months Freshwater has had a Road to Damascus experience about the value of free speech and academic freedom. But it is also evident that things have recently become a lot more uncomfortable for Auckland University and for the Royal Society Te Apārangi, our premier academy for the sciences and humanities, over their apparent hostility to views they find unacceptable.

    In November, news broke that Robert Nola, Garth Cooper and Michael Corballis — the three Fellows among the seven professors who had signed the Listener letter — were to be put under disciplinary investigation by the society for their role in writing it. (Corballis has since died.)

    New Zealand’s mainstream media has almost entirely avoided covering the debate but the society’s disciplinary action — and its earlier statement rejecting the professors’ views as “misguided” with the potential to cause “harm” — has sparked international outrage and condemnation from heavyweight public intellectuals.

    Celebrated scientists — including Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker and Jerry Coyne — have trained their sights variously on the Royal Society NZ; the open letter denouncing the professors’ views written by Auckland University academics Drs Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles; and Dawn Freshwater herself.

    Influential journalists have joined the fray too. Toby Young, writing for The Spectator, described Freshwater’s July 26 statement as a “hand-wringing, cry-bullying email to all staff at the university” — a characterisation repeated in the Daily Mail.

    Columnist Rod Liddle weighed in on the issue in the Sunday Times in an article headed “We’re Screeching into a New Dark Age” (and included Freshwater’s comment about “considerable hurt and dismay”), and Times Higher Education — the international bible for academics — has covered the debate in detail.

    Given the fame of Dawkins, Pinker and Coyne — and the extensive reach of the media outlets mentioned — it’s easy to imagine the question of Auckland University’s international standing beginning to prey on a VC’s mind.

    Perhaps that is why Freshwater felt compelled in her statement last week to remind us that her university is “a world-class, research-led university” — just in case anyone mistook it for a parochial institution struggling to understand the difference between science, myth and creationism.

    Certainly, being blasted by Jerry Coyne — professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the highly ranked University of Chicago — would have helped focus her mind about the damage to Auckland University’s international reputation.

    A fortnight ago, the best-selling science author wrote on his blog: “It’s not clear whether the Vice-Chancellor has any authority to declare what the ‘views of the University of Auckland’ are, nor whether there are any official views.

    “It’s clear she is demonising the professors at the same time she says well, they have the right of free speech — but note that the University can officially criticise them and the Royal Society can punish them!

    “As for the Vice-Chancellor emphasising the ‘considerable hurt and dismay’ at the university, I consider that a ludicrous form appeal to emotion rather than reason.”

    Coyne’s comments have been noticed at Auckland University. He reported that Todd Somerville, its Associate Director Communications, had sent him a “letter of complaint” about his original post, in which Somerville defended Freshwater ”at great length”.

    Announcing a symposium at some as-yet-unspecified time in the first quarter of 2022 will undoubtedly seem to the VC to be a very effective circuit-breaker that will provide a breather for her and her beleaguered university.

    Freshwater will no doubt also be hoping that by then the fates of Professors Cooper and Nola at the hands of the Royal Society NZ will be known — preferably, perhaps, concluding with a discharge on the grounds that a letter is not research and therefore isn’t covered by the society’s Code of Conduct — and that much of the heat in the debate will have dissipated over summer.

    Such optimism is evident in her promise of a symposium “in which the different viewpoints on this issue can be discussed and debated calmly, constructively and respectfully”.

    “I envisage a high-quality intellectual discourse with representation from all viewpoints: mātauranga Māori, science, the humanities, Pacific knowledge systems and others.”

    It certainly sounds noble, but who exactly in New Zealand will want to put their head above the parapets to argue that matauranga Maori is not scientific, and should not be part of a science curriculum, as the seven professors did in July?

    Perhaps some of the professors who signed the Listener letter will be willing to risk further public vilification and adverse consequences for their careers and reputations by arguing their case at a symposium. But why would they?

    As well as the disciplinary action taken by the Royal Society against Corballis, Nola and Cooper, others among the seven professors may have suffered professionally as a result of signing the Listener letter — including evolutionary ecologist Kendall Clements.

    As John Ross, Asia-Pacific editor for Times Higher Education, wrote: “Co-authoring the letter in the Listener may have taken a professional toll [on Clements]. Within 12 days of the letter’s publication, Clements was removed from two collaboratively taught ecology and evolution courses that he had helped deliver for years.

    “And while an email criticising the authors was distributed to staff and graduate students in the School of Biological Sciences, [Garth] Cooper’s attempt to respond through the same channel was blocked.

    “The university says the school email distribution list was ‘not the appropriate medium’ for this type of debate, so its moderators were told not to allow further emails on the topic. And Clements’ teaching duties were changed to balance his workload after another academic’s departure, ‘and to ensure that the best teaching teams were in place to deliver all courses. The Listener letter was a catalyst for actioning this, but not for the decision.’”

    If such luminaries haven’t been protected by their status within the academic community, why would anyone who is looking to further their own careers in academia decide to stand up publicly to defend science? Why would any researcher with even vague hopes of securing grants from the public purse in the future put their head in that particular noose?

    In contrast, more than 2000 (mostly New Zealand) academics felt free to sign the open letter co-authored by Drs Hendy and Wiles heavily criticising the professors’ letter — presumably without any need for concern about the consequences for their careers.

    Some commentators have suggested that in the current climate not signing the open letter could have been more dangerous professionally for many academics than signing, given the pressure to be seen to take a stand against anything that can be alleged to be “racist”, no matter how far-fetched and divorced from reality that accusation might be.

    Racism has been only one of the slurs directed at the professors. Others have included the extraordinary description of them on Twitter by a professor at Victoria University as “shuffling zombies”.

    In short, in such a febrile atmosphere, Dawn Freshwater’s grand vision of a truth and reconciliation symposium featuring a “respectful, open-minded, fact-based exchange of views on the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science” seems extremely optimistic.

    If the Vice-Chancellor really wants to set the symposium on a firm footing, and convince sceptics it is more than a PR ploy, she could start by apologising publicly to the Auckland University professors for not supporting — much more clearly and forthrightly — their right to voice their views in the first place.

  • Free Speech Union Welcomes Vice-Chancellor’s Pivot Towards Free Speech

    15 December 2021

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    After speaking on behalf of the University in July to condemn seven eminent scientists for offering a defence of science in the Listener magazine, saying their words "caused hurt and dismay", University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dawn Freshwater, is now organising a symposium where all views on this topical debate can be aired in an open and constructive way.

    A spokesperson for the Union, Ani O'Brien says “This should have been done from the start. Scholars within a university frequently disagree, and the role of the university itself is to maintain the ground on which that disagreement can take place, in good faith and in a scholarly fashion. That means that the university ought to take a neutral stance, to unequivocally defend the right and duty of its academics to make good-faith arguments, and to defend them from unfair attacks on their reputations.”

    “Facilitating a forum for debate will benefit wider society by exposing us all to a more nuanced presentation of the original letter writers’ concerns, along with offering us all a more detailed understanding of Mātauranga Māori. All the hot button topics of today can only benefit from engagement.”

    Following the publication of the Listener letter, an open response was prepared by Drs Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles in which they disagreed, saying “Mātauranga is far more than just equivalent to or equal to ‘Western’ science…” and “Putting science on a pedestal gets us no further in the solution of these crises.” More than 2000 academics signed the open letter.

    The Royal Society of New Zealand also opened an investigation into the three Listener letter authors who are Fellows, following complaints from other members. This, and the Hendy-Wiles letter, has received attention across the world, including from distinguished individuals — for example, a letter to the Royal Society from Professor Richard Dawkins and rebuttal of parts of the open letter from Professor Steven Pinker.

    The Free Speech Union is supporting the Fellows being investigated by the Royal Society and continues to work to defend the right of all New Zealanders to freely express their opinions. We hope that Professor Freshwater’s proposed symposium is conducted in the spirit of her announcement and look forward to robust debate flourishing in our universities and in our society once more.

  • The philosopher stoned for his defence of science

    Robert Nola’s academic specialty is the philosophy of science but the Royal Society is investigating him over what it claims are “misguided” views regarding Māori knowledge. Graham Adams reports.

    Professor Robert Nola’s bread and butter is analysing what makes science science. And it has been his focus for more than 50 years. Yet, he is facing a disciplinary hearing by the Royal Society for expressing his views on science and mātauranga Māori (traditional Māori knowledge).

    Nola was one of seven eminent professors from Auckland University who, in a letter to the Listener in July, criticised plans to include mātauranga Māori in the school science curriculum and to give it equal standing with “Western/ Pakeha epistemologies” — which means subjects such as physics, biology and chemistry.

    The professors acknowledged the value of indigenous knowledge as “critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices” and that it “plays key roles in management and policy”. But, they wrote, while it “may indeed help advance scientific knowledge in some ways, it is not science”.

    For reasons best known to itself, the Royal Society felt moved to respond with a public statement: “The recent suggestion by a group of University of Auckland academics that mātauranga Māori is not a valid truth is utterly rejected by Royal Society Te Apārangi. The society strongly upholds the value of mātauranga Māori and rejects the narrow and outmoded definition of science outlined in The Listener Letter to the Editor.

    “It deeply regrets the harm such a misguided view can cause.”

    Unfortunately for a statement put out in the name of the nation’s premier academy for the sciences and humanities, it was sloppily worded and seemed to show a poor grasp of what the professors had actually written.

    As has been noted elsewhere, the professors never said mātauranga Māori wasn’t a “valid truth” — which of course could describe anything from witchcraft (at least in the eyes of its practitioners) to the great Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

    Furthermore, the professors didn’t “outline” a definition of science in their letter, as the society claimed, although it perhaps could be said to have implied one.

    Possibly the Royal Society’s most egregious assertion, however, was that the professors’ views were “misguided”.

    That description can cover a multitude of sins, from being “unreasonable or unsuitable because of being based on bad judgment or on wrong information or beliefs” (Cambridge English Dictionary) to “led or prompted by wrong or inappropriate motives or ideals” (Merriam-Webster).

    Synonyms include unwarranted, unfounded, ill-advised, ill-considered, foolish and confused.

    To accuse a group of no fewer than seven outstanding professors of being “misguided” because they hold a particular view of what demarcates science from non-science seems… well… misguided. And perhaps no more so than in Professor Nola’s case.

    It would certainly be news to the editors of the prestigious journals and book collections which have published his work in the philosophy of science over decades that his views are misguided. Just as it would be news to the eminent scientists around the world who have contacted the Royal Society to condemn its investigation and to back the professors’ opinion on mātauranga Māori and their right to offer it.

    Professor Nola, a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, has an MSc in mathematics, and an MA and a PhD in philosophy.

    His résumé on the University of Auckland website details his professional interests as: “Philosophy of science; metaphysics, including naturalism; epistemology; selected areas in social and historical studies of science; atheism; science and religion.”

    It is difficult to imagine anyone in our universities who might have a better-informed view on the boundaries of science or why mātauranga Māori should not be included in the school science curriculum. Obviously, that is not a reason to immediately assume his views are correct but it is a reason to assume they are well considered and that he has the standing to make such a judgment in a professional capacity.

    That is, of course, unless it is argued that mātauranga Māori is a form of priestly knowledge that only an initiate — presumably Māori — could understand and comment on. But if that is the case, it confirms immediately that traditional Māori knowledge is not scientific.

    As the professors stated in their letter: “Science is universal” — which Nola points out can mean that it is “applicable by anyone anywhere”.

    The same point was made by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in the letter he sent to the Royal Society NZ last week (and tweeted to his 2.9 million followers) that decried the disciplinary investigation against Nola and his eminent colleague, Māori medical researcher Professor Garth Cooper:

    “Science is science is science, and it doesn’t matter who does it, or where, or what ‘tradition’ they may have been brought up in. True science is evidence-based not tradition-based; it incorporates safeguards such as peer review, repeated experimental testing of hypotheses, double-blind trials, instruments to supplement and validate fallible senses etc.”

    In his letter to the Royal Society, Jerry Coyne, professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, made the point that only scientific method can determine what parts of mātauranga Māori can be classified as scientific knowledge:

    “Māori science is a collation of mythology, religion, and legends which may contain some scientific truth, but to determine what bits exactly are true, those claims must be adjudicated by modern science: our only ‘true’ way of knowing.”

    The problem for the Royal Society in rejecting what they see as the professors’ “narrow and outmoded definition of science” is that a wider and more fashionable view of what constitutes science leads inevitably to a philosophy of “anything goes”, or a sort of epistemological anarchy.

    Once Māori myths and legends are introduced into the school science curriculum there is no justifiable reason not to include Creationism (the belief that the universe and the various forms of life were created by God out of nothing) as well.

    Parts of mātauranga Māori are, of course, creation myths, including the roles played by Ranginui, the Sky Father, and Papatūānuku, the Earth Mother, in the formation of the world.

    As Dawkins wrote: “No indigenous myths from anywhere in the world, no matter how poetic or hauntingly beautiful, belong in science classes.”

    As it happens, Professor Nola is no stranger to an elastic view of science — and what areas of knowledge and belief might fall under such an expanded remit.

    He was a lecturer in Auckland University’s philosophy department when Paul Feyerabend arrived from the University of California, Berkeley, to teach during the winter terms of 1972 and 1974.

    In the second half of the 20th Century, Feyerabend was one of the world’s best-known philosophers of science — and certainly the most mischievous.

    He was a charismatic showman with a prodigious intellect and astonishing range of interests, and one who reliably packed out the biggest lecture halls in the university. He argued (as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it) that “in order to maximise the chances of falsifying existing theories, scientists should construct and defend as many alternative theories as possible”.

    Feyerabend’s first book, Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge — published in 1975 (and expanding on the essay version that appeared in 1970) — consolidated his reputation as a thorn in the side of the profession. He argued that there is no such thing as the scientific method.

    In an era when university lecturers were still allowed to discombobulate if not alarm their students with radical ideas, he challenged his Auckland University students to convince him that witchcraft was not scientific — and prescribed the 15th Century text Malleus Maleficarum (the Hammer of Witches) as a set text.

    So Feyerabend ended up likening science to voodoo, witchcraft and astrology and defending them as systems of knowledge. He also expressed support for Creationism being included in the public school curriculum.

    You might even say, to echo the Royal Society’s formulation, he saw each of them as “valid truths”.

    Interest in Feyerabend’s views, however, dwindled in the succeeding decades, not least because what makes science science is manifestly different to traditional belief systems such as religion. Presented with evidence that confounds their theories, scientists are obliged, sooner or later, to adapt them to fit the facts or to abandon them entirely — unlike religion.

    Professor Nola has written extensively on Feyerabend’s philosophy. While freely admitting that the demarcation between science and non-science is contestable, he has rejected a Feyerabendian epistemological free-for-all.

    He wrote in the NZ Herald in 2016 to warn about “post-truth" displacing “objective facts”:

    "Insofar as studies in humanities have not resisted the views of post-truthers, too bad for humanities. But what of science? It would be quite alien for science to reject the search for truth and evidence, the core of its critical methods.

    "In science we have models of what the rational approach to believing ought to be. If followed, they are an important way to keep the post-truth era from engulfing us.”

    However, a significant problem for anyone — including the seven professors — who wants to assess the scientific nature of mātauranga Māori is deciding exactly what status it has.

    Nola points out that there are two distinct camps of thought regarding mātauranga Māori — the “accommodationist” and the “exclusionist” positions.

    The former accommodates the possibility of scientific testing to determine the scientific truth or validity of its claims. As Vision Mātauranga (2007) tells us: “Scientific knowledge has superseded traditional Māori knowledge in many ways, however, mātauranga Māori contains suggestions and ideas that may yet make a contribution to research, science and technology.”

    The latter exclusionist view asserts that it is impossible to judge mātauranga Māori by the standards of science because they are fundamentally incompatible ways of knowing. (Feyerabend would have called them “incommensurable”.)

    A quote by Professor Sir Mason Durie in the document Rauika Māngai: A Guide to Vision Mātauranga, published in 2020, made this position explicit: “You can’t understand science through the tools of mātauranga Māori, and you can’t understand mātauranga Māori through the tools of science. They’re different bodies of knowledge, and if you try to see one through the eyes of the other you mess up.”

    In the same document, the exclusive nature of mātauranga Māori was further emphasised. Aroha Te Pareake Mead expressed a view about the exclusive control of mātauranga Māori which appears to preclude any non-Maori from learning about it: “Māori are the only ones who should be controlling all aspects of its retention, its transmission, its protection.”

    Nola says that “lots of the claims from Vision Mātauranga Māori (2007) can be accommodated into science in a quite familiar way and with that I have no problem” — but the exclusionist position is more challenging.

    It is ironic that the professors who wrote to the Listener have been roundly criticised for saying “Indigenous knowledge… is not science” when influential Māori thinkers like Mason Durie — who is one of New Zealand's most respected academics — have been making a much more radical claim along these lines for years.

    In a 300-word letter to the Listener it was simply impossible for the professors to make the distinction between the accommodationist and the exclusionist approaches, but the problem remains.

    As Nola puts it: “Which version of MM is the real MM? There might not be one!”

     

    ********

    Graham Adams was a philosophy student in 1972 and 1974 at Auckland University when Paul Feyerabend was a visiting professor. Dr Nola taught a course in the philosophy of science in 1974 that Adams was enrolled in.

    ************

  • Foreign academics and media weigh in on Royal Society investigation

    Dear Jonathan,

    Young's Spectator Article

    News of the Royal Society's troubling decision to investigate three of its distinguished Fellows for defending science in a letter to the New Zealand Listener magazine has now made international headlines.

    Toby Young – the General Secretary of our sister organisation (the UK's Free Speech Union) who is an Associate Editor of the Spectator Magazine – couldn't believe his ears when we told him about the NZ Royal Society's investigation into its members who signed the Listener letter. You can read his full piece here.

    Toby Young, founder of the Free Speech Union UK'In a rational world, this letter would have been regarded as uncontroversial. Surely the argument about whether to teach schoolchildren scientific or religious explanations for the origins of the universe and the ascent of man was settled by the Scopes trial in 1925? Apart from the obvious difficulty of prioritising one religious viewpoint in an ethnically diverse society like New Zealand (what about Christianity, Islam and Hinduism?), there is the problem that Maori schoolchildren, already among the least privileged in the country, will be at an even greater disadvantage if their teachers patronise them by saying there’s no need to learn the rudiments of scientific knowledge.' 

    Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, one of the world's most well-known public intellectuals, also tweeted an article by Emeritus Professor Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago on this issue.

    Professor Dawkins (who is a Fellow of the British Royal Society) wrote 'SHAME on the NZ Royal Society' and called on his Twitter followers to write to the President of the Royal Society, Roger Ridley.  Richard Dawkins Tweet

    In a letter to the President of the Royal Society, Professor Coyne wrote 'I hope you will reconsider the movement to expel your two members, which, if done, would make the Royal Society of New Zealand a laughingstock.' Jordan B. Peterson TweetJordan B. Peterson

    Tweeting Young's Spectator column, Jordan Peterson asked the question on everyone's mind, "Why punish a scientist for defending science?"

    The bullying and 'pile-on' which is being orchasrated by the Royal Society and cultural elites like Siouxsie Wiles is baffling the scientific establishment around the world. 

    If you are an academic, we encourage you to join with these eminent international academics and scientists like Professors Dawkins, Coyne, and Peterson, and call on the Royal Society to drop this witch-hunt- you can email the President at [email protected]

    The Free Speech Union will again be contacting every academic in the country to ensure that they are aware of what an embarrassment this investigation is (and the witch-hunt it represents). 

    Times Higher Education is another global publication that has reported on the NZ Royal Society's investigation (behind a paywall - republished with permission at the end of this email). It added its voice to condemnation:

    'The RSNZ said that it was unable to comment until the disciplinary process had run its course. THE also unsuccessfully sought comment from the society’s president, the chair of its academy executive committee and several high-profile critics of the Listener letter.' 

    To defend free speech with people power, we need you onboard

    Jonathan, as we've built momentum this year, our opponents have looked for ways to discredit us. They like to say that we are just a small group of disgruntled individuals out of step with progress (the irony being progress has only ever come because of free speech). 

    When we first broke the story about the Royal Society's investigation, we were referred to as 'the so-called Free Speech Union' or 'the organisation calling itself the Free Speech Union', like this tweet from Dr Siouxsie Wiles:

    Tweet by Dr. Siouxsie Wiles

    But someone needs to be there to call out bullying and craziness like the Royal Society's investigation. If we band together, our opponents' smears just won't work. Going into 2022 we need as many individuals as possible standing up for free speech. 

    Jonathan, will you join us in this fight to defend free speech and debate in New Zealand? 

    Membership means you'll have a team in your corner if someone comes after you because of your speech. Whether it's with embattled professors, local councillors, activist groups, or DHBs, we have a track record of standing up for our member's speech- and winning. Click here to join.

    Join the Free Speech Union

    Thank you for your support and making this effort possible. 

    Jonathan


    Jonathan Ayling
    Spokesperson

    Free Speech Union
    www.fsu.nz


    Article from Times Higher Education:

    New Zealand academics investigated over Māori knowledge letter 

    Royal Society asked to expel decorated members who criticised plans to incorporate mātauranga Māori into curricula 

    December 6, 2021 

    John Ross 

    A debate about the nature of science has become a litmus test for academic freedom in New Zealand, as some leading scholars face possible expulsion from the country’s learned academy. 

    The Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ) is investigating current and former University of Auckland professors whose controversial letter to the editor of The New Zealand Listener, published in July, criticised plans to embed mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) in the school science curriculum. 

    The RSNZ received five complaints demanding disciplinary action against the three society fellows who had contributed to the letter: medical scientist Garth Cooper and philosopher Robert Nola, along with psychologist Michael Corballis, who initiated the letter. Professor Corballis, who won the Rutherford Medal – RSNZ’s highest honour – in 2016, died suddenly last month. 

    New Zealand’s Education Act guarantees academics and students the freedom to “question and test received wisdom, put forward new ideas and state controversial or unpopular opinions” within the law. The Listener letter authors insisted that they were exercising this right in criticising the incorporation of mātauranga Māori in school and university science programmes, which they likened to giving creationism the same scientific status as evolutionary biology. 

    But the complainants alleged that the authors had committed at least nine breaches of the RSNZ Code of Professional Standards and Ethics – including failing to “behave with…integrity and professionalism”, “claim competence commensurate with their expertise” or “take reasonable…precautions to protect vulnerable people” – and violated the society’s “good character obligation”. 

    The RSNZ then launched a formal investigation. Its complaints procedures state that the society’s council “may initiate an inquiry if it has reason to suspect that a member may have breached…obligations”. 

    Massey University theoretical chemist Peter Schwerdtfeger, who won the Rutherford Medal in 2014, said the society’s approach was baffling. “I think they had a choice, but it was just bluntly rejected. The Royal Society now is so influenced by mātauranga Māori ideology that they started an official procedure, and once you start it, you can’t stop it,” he said. 

    Professor Nola said the investigation was currently determining whether the complaints could be pursued under the RSNZ rules. He said the Listener letter was not a piece of research and therefore not covered by the society’s code. 

    “The Education Act and the code give us the right to express our views, in a clause about being a critic and conscience of society, even though the views might be unpopular. We had no idea at the time how popular or unpopular they were. They’ve proven to be more popular than we thought,” he said. 

    Critics have questioned how the RSNZ can undertake an impartial inquiry after its president and the chair of its academy executive committee denounced the Listener letter authors in a statement posted on the society’s website. 

    Times Higher Education understands that two of the three panellists originally enlisted to investigate the complaints were removed after it emerged that they had signed an open response condemning the Listener letter. 

    The RSNZ said that it was unable to comment until the disciplinary process had run its course. THE also unsuccessfully sought comment from the society’s president, the chair of its academy executive committee and several high-profile critics of the Listener letter.

  • Free Speech Union Update: 30 November, 2021

    Dear Supporter, 

    We all know we're entering the 'silly-season', but as you can see from this Free Speech Union update, it's not because we're getting close to Christmas. 

    Royal Society investigates Fellows for defending science 

    Prof. Garth Cooper

    Last week, we uncovered the investigation the Royal Society is conducting into two Fellows for their part in writing The Listener letter, which posited that mātauranga Māori is distinct from science. 

    A counter-letter was swiftly drafted and circulated by Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles — which claimed to “categorically” disagree with the professors’ views. I had the chance to sit down with Profs. Cooper and Clements to discuss the mischaracterisation of what they wrote, and the backlash they have endured. You can listen to the podcast here.

    We invited dozens of those who had signed the open letter to join us in this conversation to discuss their differences of opinion. Not one of them was willing to participate. 

    Likewise, when we asked to sit down with Sandra Grey, the head of the Tertiary Education Union to discuss the implications of investigations like this on academic freedom, she was entirely uninterested in engaging.  

    You might agree with the authors of the letter about mātauranga Māori and science or you might not, but that's really not the point. Prof Cooper is Māori himself and has taught kaupapa Māori for decades — it is crazy that the academy is so ideologically captured that it would condone this pile-on. The fact that those who are orchestrating these bullying and censorious tactics have no interest in engaging in a discussion is very telling. As you'll often find, one side of the debate around free speech is almost always more tolerant than the other. 

    Coverage in Radio New Zealand, Newsroom, and Stuff, each present different perspectives, but what's clear is we're generating a conversation  and that's exactly what free speech is about! 

    Journalist Graham Adams interviewed Prof. Cooper and concluded:

    ... we have ended up in a situation where a very distinguished Māori-Pākehā scientist who has helped thousands of Māori in their careers over several decades is being investigated by the Royal Society for what can only be described as holding a heretical view about the distinction between science and mātauranga Māori.

    Who knew an eminent scientist expressing an honestly held opinion — that mātauranga Māori, while valuable as a form of knowledge, is not science — would end up dealing with an Inquisition in 21st century New Zealand?   

    In another piece Graeme Adams wrote for us, he outlines the remarkable achievements of the late Prof. Michael Corballis, who until his recent passing was also under investigation by the Royal Society.

    Prof. Michael Corballis

    Some have claimed that Prof. Corballis was the best chance Auckland University has ever had of acquiring a Nobel Prize as he was arguably the global authority on left-hemisphere/right-hemisphere issues in neuropsychology. "Yet — despite having awarded him the Rutherford Medal — a full fortnight after his death the society had still not written an obituary. Unfortunately, Corballis had lately been relegated to zero from hero. His crime was effectively one of heresy."

    Steven Pinker who celebrated the life of his former professor with a laudatory tweet, pulled no punches when he was asked about this issue while being interviewed by Kim Hill on RNZ over the weekend:  

    Silencing or punishing someone for an opinion runs counter to reason. … No one is infallible; no one is omniscient. The only way our species has been able to do anything worthwhile is by voicing opinions and allowing them to be criticised…

    If you’ve got a regime where merely voicing an opinion gets you silenced or punished then we’ve turned off the only mechanism we have of discovering knowledge. It is a way of locking ourselves into error…

    If we have a regime that can subject someone to an investigation based on an opinion, we know from history that’s the way totalitarian autocracies work and oppressive theocracies work.

    The Free Speech Union is committed to standing up for these distinguished professors, and their academic freedom.

    Because of donations from supporters just like you, we have been able to cover the legal costs of the investigation and will be continuing to support them however we can.  

    Getting the message out there

    If you pick up the NZ Herald today, be sure to check out our full-page advert highlighting what the Royal Society is doing.

    Full Page in the NZ Herald

    Click for larger image

    Hate speech petition presented with strong cross-party support 

    Tens-of-thousands of Kiwis signed our petition calling on the Government to can their proposed hate speech laws, and on Thursday we presented this petition to a group of MPs at Parliament. Members from the ACT Party, the Green Party, and the National Party all agreed that the changes the Government is suggesting are dangerous. 

    This proves the point we constantly make: free speech is not a Left-Right political issue. Free speech is about defending the basic foundation of Kiwis' democratic liberties. MPs who agree on virtually nothing else joined together with us calling on the Government to drop their anti-speech proposals. 

    Hate Speech Petition Presented to Parliament

    It is outrageous that the Government is proposing to impose harsher criminal sanctions for words than those that exist for a number of violent offences. 

    Even more so given that neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister of Justice have been able to say when asked what speech would or would not be prosecuted under the proposals. 

    This places an unacceptable and undemocratic burden on the police and the courts which will inevitably be left with the task of exploring the application of these laws.

    We've already seen a Police Officer in Auckland tell street preachers that "there's a difference between hate speech and free speech" and that they were "very close to the line" before any such laws have even passed. 

    There is no public mandate for these changes. Of the 18,000 responses which were made to the Ministry of Justice about the hate speech proposals, 15,000 of them specifically endorsed the Free Speech Union's submission. Yet, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of the submissions were facilitated by the Free Speech Union, the Minister has repeatedly refused to meet with us to discuss our concerns and has apparently requested none of the other ministers we have asked to meet with sit down with us.

    We couldn't resist

    It just so happened that as we were presenting the petition, Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi walked by, and so we had an opportunity to invite him in person to receive the petition signed by tens of thousands of Kiwis...

    Unsurprisingly, he declined. 

    Minister of Justice declines to receive petition

    Hate Speech debate with Paul Hunt

    The Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt, has been a strong proponent of the anti-speech laws the Government is proposing. Free Speech Union Member Daphna Whitmore was invited to debate him on this issue and did a stellar job.

    Hate Speech Debate with Paul Hunt and Daphna Whitmore

    In his conclusion, Hunt parahprased Isaiah Berlin and claimed "'Total liberty of the powerful, the gifted, is not compatible with the rights to a decent existence of the weak and less gifted.’ And that’s why we need a high-level threshold of hate speech. Otherwise, the liberty of wolves will lead to the death of lambs."

    This perfectly encapsulates the patronising and infantilising perspective that underpins the justification for anti-speech laws, and which ironically insults the ethnic, religious, and gender minorities of our country.

    As Daphna points out, anti-speech laws are a political project which the elite imposes top-down with threats of imprisonment. Why? Because they don't trust everyday Kiwis to respect others or tolerate differences. 

    >>> Watch the debate between Hunt and Whitmore here<<<

    Jonathan Rauch, who we were fortunate to have as our most recent SpeakEasy guest, tackles the argument of authorities purporting to speak on behalf of minorities head-on in his interview with Dr David Cumin available on our podcast.

    Victory in Michael Laws Case as Codes of Conduct threaten to undermine accountability

    As well as taking on the woke academy and paternalistic Government, we're also continuing to look into the way Codes of Conduct are being weaponised and used to silence our elected local representatives. 

    Cr. Laws

    We were very pleased to let you know that the complaint against Otago Regional Councillor Michael Laws covered in previous newsletters has notbeen unheld upon investigation.

    Reports we've received from within the Otago Regional Council have claimed that the letter we sent to the Chief Executive was instrumental in the investigation, and the complaint being dropped. This just shows the way these complaints are lobbed about to intimidate councillors. 

    Before the investigation was concluded, we sat down with Cr. Laws to discuss the case, and how common it is for these Codes to be used to attack elected representatives by bureaucrats. We doubt these Codes are lawful and are continuing work in examining their use to undermine democratic accountability.

    Council codes of conduct: Facebook Live – Thursday 7pm 

    FB Live Discussion on Council Codes of Conduct

    On Thursday night, at 7pm, Free Speech Union Council Member and lawyer Stephen Franks will be sitting down with 3 Councillors from around the country to hear their stories concerning the opposition they have faced from Code of Conduct complaints, and proposals they have to improve the system, and defend free speech. We'll be going live on our Facebook Page, so make sure you have liked our page to receive a notification when we go live. 

    Donate to the FSU

    The attacks on free speech simply remind us again and again why a collaborative effort is needed to defend this core liberty. We are only able to operate because of members and supporters like you. 

    Join the FSU

    Thank you for making this work possible. 

    Jonathan


    Jonathan Ayling
    Spokesperson

    Free Speech Union
    www.fsu.nz

You might also like: